Thankfully three years ago I was able to attend a conference in Springfield where I had my first experience with math stations and differentiation. From there I read Debbie Diller's book Math Workstations. I finally felt inspired by these ladies and their instruction and knew what I had to do! If you have not already, I suggest you read Diller's book. She is definitely a great starting point for math stations.
I began a couple of summers ago by reorganizing all of my math manipulatives and activities. Talk about a lot of work! I found that using clear plastic tubs work well with labels. I then chose the same tubs to house the students' math stations. Since I typically have around 24 students a year I wanted 12 math stations (that way students could work in partners). Each station tub contains two activities for students to choose from to complete. We go through two rounds of these stations (since there are 2 activities), so I do not have to create new stations for a couple of months. A lot less work than creating stations weekly! Many of these station tubs just have activities that are continuously added to them for students to work on. I have attached a picture below of my math station area.
As you can see all the tubs are clear and numbered 1-12. The biggest question is: How do you choose what activities to put in the stations? I try to focus on the basic areas: Number Sense, Geometry, Measurement, Data and Probability, and Algebra. Many activities seem to fall in these areas and with the lessons being taught in class. I always make sure that the activities meet all learning needs. I often use color coded stickers to identify differentiation for the students. For example, anything with a blue sticker is often for my advanced learners. I used red stickers for those right on track and yellow stickers for those who are struggling.
Of course before any math station work begins I am sure to always teach the students how to do the activities. This usually comes during our mini lessons. Luckily with 4th graders they are better at reading and following directions, so that usually helps when they forget. Below you will see how I make the station directions on an index card and attach to a key ring. In addition, I created an "I Can" list that is taped to each lid explaining what activities the children are allowed to do at the station.You will see this in Diller's book!
Another big question: How do children know which station to attend? I have created a management system that I keep on my math board. Students are set up in partners that are interchangeable, and all they have to do is find their name and then the corresponding numbered station.
I have also found it useful to number off special places around the room for where students can complete their station. Before they would just gather around each other and it would be a mess. Now they just find the numbered square around the classroom and that is the designated area for their station time.
Big question: How much time do they get at stations? On average, I give students about 15 minutes at a station. This is usually enough time to complete one of the activities. We do one round of stations a day.
Big question: What do students do when they finish early? It is inevitable. You will have students who always finish early. At my math station area I have a few activities for students to complete. They have an option of reading a math book, playing with flash cards, or working with number tiles. I always stress that they must be doing something math related! No reading or writing unless it deals with math! I found math journals to also be useful at this time for problem solving activities.
Big question: How do you keep the stations cleaned and organized? This topic is one big mini lesson at the beginning of the year! We discuss exactly what a clean station area and tub should like. We practice packing up a tub and putting it away. However, there is always the chance that we still end up with missing pieces. Any missing pieces go in our "Missing Pieces" basket. I encourage students to be in charge of their own learning at these stations, but they also must show responsibility. If they make poor choices then they can be banned from stations for a short period of time. Trust me....this is all the incentive they need! Math stations are a favorite part of the day!
Big Question: What is the teacher doing at this time? Are all students doing stations at the same time? I have used two different approaches with math stations. I have found both to work, but it mostly depends on what works best for your class. Each year may be different with each group of students.
I begin with a five minute review or introduction for the day. We then split into three groups. I have the students divided into three groups based on their needs (challenge, right on track, or more help needed). This is determined by the preassessment I give before I teach each new chapter. The great thing about the preassessment, is that it can also become the practice test at the end of the unit!
Each group goes through a rotation during our math block. They will spend 15 minutes with me on the lesson of the day where we use marker boards, manipulatives, and worksheets. One 15 minute session will be at stations. The other 15 minute session will be doing independent work at their desks. This is where they work on the worksheet for today's lesson and complete the problem of the day in their math notebooks. Below is the sample schedule of my class this year.
Tip: I always leave my challenge group for last and have them complete their independent practice first. Since they are ahead with the lesson already, they are often able to complete that day's worksheet without any extra help.
I begin with a 25 minute whole group mini lesson. We often gather on the floor with our marker boards. At the end of the lesson the students head back to their seats to complete their independent practice (usually a workbook page). During this time I can go around the room and help those as needed. As they finish their independent practice, they put it to the corner of their desk and begin their problem of the day in their math notebooks. Once they have that finished then they can move on to their stations. When their independent practice is finished, I quickly check for mastery as I travel around the room. If they have the skill I will put a star on it and move on. If I realize they are struggling then I will pull that worksheet aside. Once all students have finished their independent practice, I will pull those who struggled into a small group and reteach the lesson. They may lose out on station time, but it is necessary for mastery of the lesson. There are times when I may even have enough time to pull a challenge group too.
Whichever approach you choose I always end with a closure. Students gather back at their desks where we review the problem of the day first. Then, students write their closing statements in their math notebooks. This is where they reflect on their progress during Math Workshop. They can discuss the following:
- Today I learned....
- I am proud of.....
- I am confused about....
- I enjoyed....
- I want to know more about.....
I cannot stress enough how much I love this approach to teaching math. I can honestly say that it does help to reach my students' needs much easier than the typical math approach. Not to mention the fact the students love it too!